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A new chapter begins for Australian optical astronomy

3 July 2018

A joint release with the Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, the Hon Zed Seselja MP.

Australia is set to build on its world-class technical and scientific capabilities in astronomy and astrophysics with the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) moving into the domestic research sector.

From 1 July 2018 the scientific functions, relevant assets and existing commitments of the AAO will transfer to two new consortia of Australian universities.

The transfer is part of ongoing efforts by the Turnbull Government to ensure Australia maintains its leading position in optical astronomy research, instrumentation and industry innovation.

Under the transfer arrangements, Macquarie University will take on the AAO's research and optical instrumentation capability, and partner with the Australian National University (ANU), the University of Sydney and Astronomy Australia Limited.

The partnership will be established as a new national optical instrumentation capability to be known as Australian Astronomical Optics, carrying forward the internationally recognised AAO brand.

Under an additional arrangement the ANU will take over the operation of the 3.9-metre diameter Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) at Siding Spring Observatory, near Coonabarabran, NSW. A consortium of 13 Australian universities will fund the new operation, which will extend the operating life of the AAT until at least 2024-25.

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Senator Michaelia Cash acknowledged the strong investment from many universities and congratulated the sector on achieving such a positive outcome for the nation.

“Our 10-year Strategic Partnership with the European Southern Observatory has really set the nation up to further excel in astronomy, astrophysics and engineering.

“A strong, consolidated capability at home will give us the best chance of capitalising on our long-term ESO investment.

“Macquarie University, ANU and the University of Sydney have impressive track records in science and commercialisation, and are well positioned to continue developing the AAO into a business that benefits Australians and the world,” Minister Cash said.

“Technology developed originally for astronomical research has led to improvements in navigation technology, space weather monitoring, telecommunications and computer networks, medical and retinal imaging, and laser eye surgery.

“I look forward to seeing what new discoveries the astronomy community can make under the new arrangements,” Minister Cash said.

Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation Senator Zed Seselja said it was the start of an exciting new chapter for the AAO.

“The spectacular discoveries and images created by our astronomers advance scientific understanding, stimulate scientific interest in young people and inspire all of us to think about our place in the universe.

“Australia has a strong international reputation in optical astronomy and I’m sure we will continue to play a leading role in developing future optical telescopes and inspiring the next generation of Australian astronomers and engineers,” Assistant Minister Seselja said.

Australia entered into a 10‑year partnership with ESO a year ago, on 11 July 2017. The partnership gives our astronomers access to the tools and collaboration opportunities they need to continue leading-edge discoveries that advance our understanding of the universe.

For more information visit https://industry.gov.au/science/optical-astronomy-in-Australia/Pages/default.aspx
Media contacts:

Minister Cash's office 02 6277 7320

Minister Seselja's office 02 6277 3187